Senior baseball player makes transition from football

Junior second baseman Kyle Crabtree runs to first base after a hit against Stillman University Feb. 7. Crabtree also played quarterback, receiver and holder for the UNA football team from 2012-2014.

by Staff Writer Mike Ezekiel

For multisport athletes in high school, transitioning from one sport to the next can be difficult. Imagine doing it on the college level.

UNA senior Kyle Crabtree is the starting second baseman for the baseball team this season, but beforehand he spent three years as a quarterback and wide receiver on the football team.

“It was very tough to give up football for baseball, but the opportunity was there,” Crabtree said. “It wasn’t an easy decision, but the support from all my coaches, my friends and my family has been a huge part of my decision.”

Crabtree said his childhood dream was to play college football, but his love for baseball grew more and more the past year.

“There’s just something about football that I love and enjoy,” Crabtree said. “In high school, my focus was football. But now I’ve learned to appreciate the game of baseball and that in itself has been a great experience.”

Baseball head coach Mike Keehn said Crabtree’s transition last fall from football to baseball went quicker than anticipated.

“A lot of guys that haven’t played baseball in a while have trouble catching up to speed,” Keehn said. “With (Crabtree), he did some work in the summer to get into the baseball mentality. What he has done has been pretty amazing.”

Keehn said Crabtree is very coachable, which helped his transition to baseball significantly.

“He really bought in and accepted everything we have tried to do,” he said. “He earned his opportunity in the lineup and took advantage of it. He’s a very coachable player.”

Football head coach Bobby Wallace said he believes Crabtree made a good decision to play baseball and is pleased to see him succeed.

“Kyle is a very good baseball player,” Wallace said. “He had some honors in high school, and I’m really happy he’s doing so well in baseball.”

Wallace also said Crabtree has the ability to be a leader on and off of the field.

“We miss him,” Wallace said. “He is a great leader, great person. He had an impact on our team, even if he didn’t get as much playing time as he would’ve liked. He’s a competitor and when he walks on any field, other players rally around him.”

UNA offensive coordinator Cody Gross worked directly with Crabtree on the football field and still has a great friendship with his former player, he said.

“Kyle comes by my office weekly just to talk, and that means the world to me,” Gross said. “With most guys, after they finish playing, you never hear from them again — maybe occasionally. Sometimes he just needs me to listen, and that’s what I do. In all of my years of coaching, he’s one of my favorites.”

Gross said he encouraged Crabtree to take the opportunity, even if it meant losing him as a player.

“I told him I didn’t blame him one bit,” he said. “I actually encouraged him, even though I wanted him to play football here. He’s a guy that is a joy to coach, and I miss him.”

Last fall, the football team had issues at the quarterback position the week of a road game against the University of North Carolina-Pembroke. UNA’s primary quarterbacks, Luke Wingo and Jacob Tucker, were injured.

Even though Crabtree had already moved on to baseball, Gross decided to call and ask if he wanted to play one more game.

“I asked coach Wallace before I called Kyle, and he was OK with it,” Gross said. “I told him I needed him for a week. Coach Keehn allowed him to come out for a week, and he did a great job.”

Crabtree is batting .302 and has 11 RBIs and nine stolen bases.

Crabtree said playing both sports has helped him in the long run.

“I feel like in high school, football made me better at baseball, and baseball made me better at football,” he said. “I try to take the competitiveness from football onto the baseball field. It’s very easy to get relaxed, so having a football mentality in baseball has been great for me.”

Crabtree wraps-up his final regular season series April 25-26 against Shorter.